Sport’s beauty lies in its ability to juxtapose euphoric highs with crushing disappointment. The crossing of that finish line and the realisation that your Olympic dream has arrived. Unbridled joy, indomitable relief, for many the culmination of a lifelong pursuit. For some like Keely Hodgkinson another step in a career soon to grow accustomed to the global stage, for others like Adam Gemili an affirmation that once more they’ll get their shot.
But for all the shrieks of joy, sometimes milliseconds later lie the anguish of those behind. Jamie Webb, perhaps Britain’s most consistent runner of the last few years (World Rank 13th) seeing a trio pull away, his tying legs allowing no opportunity to respond. Tokyo running into the distance. Mark Pearce, who of course may yet go on World Rankings, crossing the line in first an exhausted look to the clock, the seconds slipping past an auto qualifier. James Ellington, GB’s miracle man, seeing the tallest of tasks finally be wiped from his limitless ambition as Ade Adewale dips him for a spot in the 100m final.Embed from Getty Images
The mortality of Mo.
And there was one other. It is hard to feel sorry for a man that’s achieved four Olympic Golds and six World championship titles. In many ways I don’t. But Mo Farah has been an accompaniment to the majority of my life. From the first time I donned a cross country spike in faint delusion to the fifteen years or so later where I’d once more do the same. We’ve seen him lose. The 2006 European Champs 5,000 where Jesus Espana passed him on the straight. The Bejiing Olympics where he would fade in the semi-finals. A dejected look to the track questioning where it had all gone wrong.Embed from Getty Images
Farah will of course be remembered for the ones he did win, always imperious but one peerless in its utter inevitability. Four years ago I was fortunate enough to be in the stadium for his final global triumph. Twenty-five laps of the Olympic Stadium in East London. Geoffrey Kamworor, Paul Tanui, Joshua Cheptegui, the very best the world had to offer.
Watching from behind the home straight, each lap they’d pass the crowd would rise to their feet. A Ugandan assault, winding up, each passing lap a visceral reminder of the untouchable class of the planet’s elite distance runners. Every stride a fleeting dab of the polyurethane track. Every propulsion sending shockwaves through muscles honed travelling the world’s circumference many times over. The stage so impressive, the challenge so great and yet the certainty that one athlete evoked made the conclusion inevitable.Embed from Getty Images
It is perhaps fitting that on that same night Usain Bolt won his last race, winning his 100m heat (he would finish second in the semi-final to Christian Coleman and third in the final and pull his hamstring in the 4×100). Few athletes of any generation have the ability to draw followers into a sport that more often than not plays second fiddle. But, like Usain Bolt, Mo Farah did.
So it is in my opinion only fair that Farah got his final shot. A time trial for one last Olympic charge. Ten global titles generally does that. But it is also apt that Farah wasn’t the one to have the final say. For Farah, Manchester was a bridge too far, the zenith reached in 2017 a mountain top he would never again reach. Ten in a row, peerless over six incredible years, but like anyone else mortal.
Many athletes choose to bow out before nature forces its hand but for Farah he seems to have succumbed to his aura. And who can blame him, the vanquisher of all challengers, Britain’s distance king. It is an era we may never see again. It’s ending is a fitting reminder of the anguish the accompanies the euphoria and makes the spectacle so special.